A chaotic scene unfolded on the Upper East Side Sunday as pro- and anti-migrant demonstrators faced off, ending in a slew of arrests.
Republican radio personality and failed mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa led the raucous rally outside of Gracie Mansion on Aug. 27, where he decried Mayor Eric Adams’ efforts to aid the city’s migrant crisis.
Sliwa has helmed several protests over the last several weeks denouncing the placement of asylum-seeker shelters, including the tent city at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, and St. John Villa Academy in Staten Island. However, for the first time the Guardian Angel founder met pushback from New Yorkers who say they welcome the new arrivals.
Calling Sliwa’s troop “far-right xenophobes” who put together a “hate rally,” a group of counter-protesters demanding housing for the migrants assembled about an hour before their political rivals. Gathering on East 86th Street and East End Avenue, the group of pro-migrant supporters firmly planted their feet in the ground and denounced Sliwa for what they cited as hate rhetoric.
“They’re acting as though immigrant families with small children are somehow a danger to school children at the recent shelter that was announced in the abandoned school in Staten Island. It’s nothing but white supremacy,” counter-protester Jay W. Walker said.
Over the last several weeks, the Guardian Angels founder has accused the city’s new arrivals of being thieves and gang members, and rebuked Mayor Adams for his handling of the crisis. Dubbing his demonstration “Occupy Gracie Mansion,” Sliwa railed against Adams for building migrant shelters across the five boroughs yet not placing them inside Gracie Mansion.
“We’re here because the mayor has brought this situation to a head. And if you remember, within less than a month ago, unsolicited he said, ‘You know, I’m the general. I should really set an example and house some migrant families.’ Then the very next day, he said, they won’t let me do it. What do you mean, you’re the mayor? Who won’t let you do it? Naturally, no answer,” Sliwa said.
It didn’t take long for both parties to clash, unleashing pandemonium. Some tossed water bottles and other objects at one another while others resorted to wild punches that left bloody knots. One anti-migrant protester could be seen putting a pro-migrant demonstrator in a headlock as they both sent haymakers flying. NYPD swooped in, tackling the grapplers to the ground. Cops cuffed several of those involved in the skirmishes, dragging them away from under their arms as they cried out.
Once the violence had subsided, Sliwa riled up his base by charging that asylum seekers should be housed at Rikers Island inside jail cells for six months until they are granted working papers. This was capped-off by Sliwa, along with a few of his followers, slowly pushing out of the rallying area and toward Gracie Mansion where he was swiftly arrested and carted away to a nearby police wagon.
This hectic afternoon comes as the number of migrants in the city reaches an all-time high. According to numbers released by City Hall, over 100,000 migrants have passed through city care while over 58,000 are still being housed in the Big Apple through the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, along with shelters, as even more areas are being set up to aid the unending influx. The nightly cost of a single asylum-seeker family has been calculated at $383 per night which is projected to total to $12 billion over the course of three years.
New York politicians have repeatedly called on the federal government for support amidst the worsening crisis. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams told amNewYork Metro that he believes the unrest is being exacerbated by the Biden administration’s inaction.
“The federal government has been an abject failure when it comes to this. So, my hope is that Biden either comes to visit or steps up in a way that he hasn’t and that will stop some of the us versus them that I think will unfortunately get worse,” Williams said. “And we have to remember, I always just tell folks, what will cause you to take your newborn child across the jungle.”
The NYPD is still determining the number of arrests.